When labor markets tighten, young people just graduating high school face tough choices. The military offers competitive pay and benefits compared to other entry-level work. But active military service isn't right for everyone. Some have family obligations, are conscientious objectors or have disabilities or other conditions that preclude military service. Fortunately, many alternatives to military service may help you further your education, train you for future employment or give you the opportunity to serve the community.
Police and Fire/Rescue
Many local police and fire departments will take new applicants with high school diplomas or GEDs. To be competitive, you should be relatively physically fit and be able to pass a drug screening and criminal background check. You will have to pass through a qualified police or fire academy, where you will learn the basics of law enforcement or fire protection. Becoming an emergency medical technician (EMT) or paramedic is another option, if you have good study skills and an aptitude for learning. Each of these fields offers the potential of a long career with room for advancement.
Teach for America
Teach for America seeks to put energetic and enthusiastic teachers in classrooms across the country. The program focuses on recruiting for schools in especially challenged areas, including urban and remote, rural settings, and in shortage fields such as science and special education. This program is for college graduates who are willing to work as schoolteachers. Teach for America offers its teachers a student loan repayment program similar to that of the military, as well as the opportunity for loan forebearance while working in the program. You may also qualify for a payment of $5,350 for each of two years of teaching. The money can be used to repay loans, obtain teacher certification or pay for graduate study.
Young people who wish to travel extensively without serving in the military may consider the Peace Corps. This is a government agency under the auspices of the State Department that sends volunteers all over the world to assist communities in developing nations address challenges such as educating and feeding their children, finding and distributing clean water, and developing social systems, such as their court systems. Peace Corps volunteers deploy overseas for 27-month-long tours, living and working among the native populations. Volunteers receive a salary and assistance with student loans upon their return. Most positions require a bachelors' degree, or equivalent experience in a needed field such as agroforestry. Nondegree positions generally require 3 to 5 years of work experience.
The United States Merchant Marine refers to the vast fleet of private passenger and cargo transportation ships flagged or sailing out of American ports. Captains of merchant vessels must staff their ships with workers of all levels of education. The career offers the potential of extensive travel and competitive pay, along with the possibility of a long and rewarding career as you move up in experience, technical expertise and responsibility.